Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Blue Pond - deepest known sinkhole pond in Missouri.

We took a short hike to Blue Pond at Castor River Conservation Area.  Blue Pond is deepest known sinkhole pond in Missouri.  The pond is is believed to have formed from a cavern collapse during the New Madrid earthquake in 1811 (per Missouri Department of Conservation). 

This is a super short hike - if both gates are open - took us about ten minutes total to hike from parking lot to the pond.  The area is "semi rugged" meaning it is uneven ground and has some large rocks and weeds to walk through - just wear good walking shoes and bug spray.  This is a kid friendly hike and strollers with big wheels would easily go on the path.  

The pond was a little disappointing tonight as the last time I visited it was gorgeous, but this time there has been a tree fall in the pond that made the pond not appealing. 

The pond is super cold, the valley leading up to the pond is very cool as well, maybe 20 degrees cooler than it was in town.  You will see lots of wildlife, wild flowers, and some corn!  

More Photos From the walk to and from Blue Pond 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Thank you for loving God.....

Dear Amanda,

Today I received a letter in the mail - in the past when I received letters from you, I dreaded them, but today this one made me cry for a different reasons!  It made me cry from joy and love.

When I first met you, it was not easy - then we went through an even rougher patch  - then one day
God took hold of both of our hearts and made us both realize that we could do better!  You were the courageous one that took the first step and every day I thank God for that.

I know this is the last place (my blog) that you wanted to end up - as your wrote me in private, but you deserve honor and recognition for the courageous, honorable, and loving actions you have done over the past few months.

You have Jesus in your heart!  This is my favorite thing about you!   We can do all things through Christ - no doubt!   In the past few months by following God's word and wisdom you have helped heal wounds that were deep and painful!  You have been a light where there was not a light before  - I am so thankful that you chose Jesus and allowed him to you use you!

You are a good Mom to my kids!  I know they are a lot to handle - I made them that way!  However, you comfort them when they are sad, you spoil them when they need to be, you discipline them when they are bad, you go out of the way to make sure I can talk to them, and most importantly you help guide them down the path of Jesus!  That means more to me than anything else in the world!

You are a shoulder to cry on!  Last week, when I  embarrassingly had a mini panic attack thinking that I would have to go few days without communicating with D - you shared your compassion, wisdom, and made it possible for me to talk to him regularly!  That means more to me than all the money in the world.

While you were not originally part of my life plan - I know you were part of God's plan for my life!   I know that he is using you to do great things and I am honored and full of joy to know you!  You have become more than his wife - you have become my sister in Christ.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cultivating Change in The Inner City of St Louis, Missouri with Love the Lou

Change comes with time, effort, love, and dedication.  Outside of our comfort zone, but within our own state there are people that are struggling, there is communities that are in distress, and there is families searching for change! 

Recently our family and a few of our friends had the opportunity to serve with Love the Lou in Saint Louis, Missouri.   Never had I had the opportunity to take my kids on a mission trip - and I wanted to be able to share with them the experience of serving and showing God’s love to others.

Love the Lou is a movement of restoration for the City of St Louis, Missouri – the mission works to restore, rebuild, and cultivate change within the inner city.  North City also known as the inner city of St. Louis is well known for gang violence, crime, street shootings - making life difficult for the families and children growing up and living within the community.

On our brief trip to serve with Love the Lou we spent time working in their Enright Community Gardens, learning about the Enright Avenue community, and visiting with the youth involved in their STL Lift program. 

The Enright Community Gardens are a unique project developed by Love the Lou – currently there are three gardens, each serving a different purpose for the community.

Garden One is filled with raised garden beds; families choose their garden, plant and maintain the garden throughout the growing season, and feed their family from the garden. 

Garden Two is more of a flower garden with a unique environment giving families a safe spot to enjoy an afternoon picnic, host a birthday party, or even come together for worship.  The garden includes picnic tables, a gazebo, a small library, and room for kids to play.

Garden Three is known as the Urban Farm – by far this was my kid’s favorite garden – the garden currently has a few raised beds and a chicken coop that houses five “city chickens”.  Families take turns caring and tending to the chickens; giving the caregiver family farm fresh eggs in return.

While we spent much of our day working in these unique gardens – we also spent most of our day serving beside the youth from the STL Lift program.  I must admit that the gardens were fun, but my husband and I’s hearts went to the young men and women in this program – they make a commitment to not become part of the inner city’s problem and instead work towards changing their own life as well as their community.  These are kids are close to the age of our own children, but have faced more challenges than we have as adults.  We knew we were there to serve them, but left knowing they impacted us more than we would ever impact them.

The Love the Lou mission began in 2009 by Lucas Rouggly with hope to find simple and practical ways to serve the city, from that hope sprung an organization that serves multitude of families and children in an area struggling to find hope.  

4 Ways You Can Love the Lou

(Disclosure:  This article originally appeared in The Banner Press - please support our local paper by purchasing a copy or a months subscription.) 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

One Year Down on the Road to Eternity.

It was suppose to be the hardest year of our lives, they said that we would struggle, they said the adjustment period would take a toll on us. 

It has been one year to the day since Trey and I began our life together as a family.  It has been a ride
Photo Credit Elizabeth Rae Photography
of a year; in the middle of adjusting to all of us living under one roof, I started a new job and we bought a new house - but that didn't seem to stop us.

I remember sitting among a group of newlyweds and listening to the chat about how hard the first year of marriage was - I almost felt guilty for not feeling like we were struggling and later I even questioned if there was something wrong with our relationship - we were not fighting constantly.  

One day I was chatting with my friend and discussing the fact that I couldn't understand why Trey and I were not the typical "newlyweds" - or how they describe the first year of marriage.  She laughed at me and said "Becky you are not typical, your marriage was not considered normal to today's society, and your marriage was built around God - not lust"  - quite a compliment, but.......

Sometimes I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop and one of us spend a few nights on the couch angry - but then I remind myself that marriage is not designed for battle, it is designed for companionship, friendship, and a helpmate. We do not need to fight to be married - we need to love.  

We owe this first year and the next hundred or so to God and like our wedding day, I am excited to see where year two takes us.  

I told you about my little nothing town
The house where I came from

I told you sometimes I lose my faith
I wondered why someone like you would even talk to me

I told you there's no fixing me
Cause everybody's already tried
Why did you stay? You could have left.  

I could have waited, it would have all came out eventually
I told you all the stupid things I've done
I could have blamed it on being young, But I was old enough to know, I know

 I told you the mess that I can be
When there's no one there to see 
You said you would look the other way, cause you love me anyway. 

 I told you I planned on staying here, My dreams are here
And I knew your family is gonna want you to stay there.
You know what? I don't blame them

So I said what I didn't want to
And just prayed you wouldn't leave 

 You loved me anyway, you love me anyway

So before we go another year - I just want to say, I love you more than ever before! 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

An Insiders Guide to How Your Thoughts are Being Bought

(Disclosure:  I am not being compensated for this post, nor am I writing it to offend anyone - if you do not like what I have to say - click the back button and leave.)

A few weeks ago, three dozen or so friends of mine shared two different views to the recently released Disney Beauty and The Beast – I am not here to discuss the movie – that is for the movie critiques.
Blogger in Training

The controversy around the release made my heart sink – I so hated to watch my friends and family disagree over a movie – they had not even seen yet!  Then I realized, they were not disagreeing over the movie – they were disagreeing over what the “media” had told them about the movie.  The controversy was completely media induced!

First I want to define “media” – you see when I was growing up media consisted of talk radio shows, the local news channels, the weekly newspapers, and a few magazines.  Today “media” is much more – anyone can be media – and everyone has an opinion!

Ten years ago, I started a sad little blog, not the one you are reading – as I have revamped it, changed the name, and it has grown to so much more, but ten years ago, I entered the world of media – without realizing it.   Me a then stay at home mom – who had limited education in politics, world views, or really anything else – became media.

Ten years forward, bloggers have become one of the main sources of media!  Bloggers share opinions mixed with facts on everything from religion, politics, travel, parenting, to so much more – many of these bloggers are not experts, they are just individuals with a passion and a computer.

Now I am not here to “knock” bloggers or online media as I am one, but this latest Beauty and the Beast ordeal, last year’s transgender bathroom issue, the “Cash Me Outside Girl”, and few other news breaking ordeals has made me realize that many folks do not understand how “blogging” and modern day media works.

Media Makes Money Off Your Curiosity

I am guilty, you are guilty, and probably half the United States is guilty of this – we see a catchy headline we click the link – and money goes in someone’s pocket.

Modern day media is all about the clicks, views, followers, or listeners – nothing about the truth – yes, I said truth.  Remember when I said “Me a then stay at home mom – who had limited education in politics, world views, or really anything else – became media” – all I had to have was an opinion and get people to click on my articles.

How do you get people to click the link?  You catch their attention!

How do you catch their attention?  You say something different than everyone else – sometimes outlandish – and many times they will say something not true!

I click – how does that make someone else money? 

No one truly writes for free – I mean free.   I think my first 5 blog post ever were free, after that I quickly learned how to turn my thoughts to money or at least goods.

Media producers make money a few different ways – they are supposed to disclose that they work for compensation, but often that is wrote so tiny font readers completely miss it.

No matter what type of media you are in it is all about how big your audience is – period, nothing else matters.  The first thing a PR firm will ask your for is - your numbers!

Here I am going to break down various ways media makes money. 

The Paid Writer – this would be your traditional journalist, news anchor, talk show writer, and even now online media writers.  They are paid to write – often salaried, sometimes it is by the piece.  Their goal is to get the most viewers, if their segments, articles, or broadcast are not drawing in numbers they are not doing their job and can quickly be replaced.

Pay per click/view – This kind of pay is based off how many people see your post/segment/article/ or other form of media – you are paid by the click; therefore, you really must draw people to your piece. These are the articles that typically have the most outlandish titles.

Affiliate Links – This type of compensation is the hardest to spot – while they are still supposed to disclose it, even if it is disclosed many do not notice or even understand what that means.  This is when there are hyperlinks within the text that take you to outside sources.  Sometimes the outside sources require a purchase – most often they do not, just a click.

Goods for Review – This is one of the most common ways bloggers and online media sources are compensated – I will admit many times I was or am compensated in this manner.  In the beginning companies wanted your honest opinion and wanted you to “write a reliable review” as you often had the trust of your community and had become a trusted friend to the community.  Today, that is not always true – I have received emails from PR firms that state “if you like this write a review please”.  Yeah okay, this is probably why I do not work as much as I use to!  It is not always easy to be “completely honest” when you just want readers and free products!  Now this is not every blogger, I have many reliable blogging friends, but you should read between the lines and see if you can really trust them.

Sponsored Post – another very popular way online media makes money – pay per post.   Again, these are to be disclosed, but you must know what the hashtag or marking means.  There are companies designed to hire online media to produce pieces to promote events, products, TV Shows, politicians (yes politicians), and many other things.  If the online media person is honest – they only write and support topics or products, they believe in – but when you are working for pennies and desperate to make the dollar it could push you to support about anything.

AdSense or Ads – This form of sponsorship the online media has very little control of and often earns pennies for – like I earned $90 for the entire year of 2016 from my AdSense account.  You have to be savvy or more dedicated to making money than me – but this is also based off clicks.   The ads are placed to drive people to other sites – and some online media make really good money this way. These are also the easiest sponsorship to spot - as you see the ad right there on your screen!

This is just a few of the ways media makes money, as there are many other ways, but as you see there is one thing in common – it is all about clicks, viewers, and followers.

How to know the media person is being paid. 

Disclosure, Disclosure, Disclosure – you have probably seen my leads sentence that says “I was compensated for this post, but my thoughts and opinions cannot be bought” – I try to draw attention to that comment, it is usually the first sentence of paid post for me, centered in the middle of the page, and often italicized.   I find it a compliment that people value my writing enough to pay me! However, little do many know this is a requirement – if you are being paid or making money off your online work it is a REQUIREMENT - The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) requires disclosures, however, they have very few requirements.  You can learn more about disclosures here.  

To spot a disclosure in an article, look at the top of the post – typically in size 4 or 6 fonts there will be a brief statement – often they key word that then links to another site that list a full disclosure – of how they are compensated, maybe not how they are specifically compensated for that post, but a list of how they may have been compensated in one of the thousand plus post they have produced.  Some online media has went to the image disclosure - these are often the most reliable sources, they are very honest and upfront that they are being sponsored.

Spot a disclosure on a social media post – look for hashtags.  They are often shortened, so the message can be longer!  They should say #sponsored #spnsrd #paid #compensated #hosted – or something to that nature.  I have found that online media is usually honest about being hosted or sponsored on Instagram and Twitter – possibly because those tags are always trending.

A disclosure in a video – now some individuals disclose “I am being paid by” – however, many times video media is harder to catch who is paying who.  Sometimes the sponsor may be the t-shirt company and the media person is talking about parenting – the viewer sees the shirt, but listens to the words.  It is complex to say the least.

Everyone is getting paid – who do I trust?   

You could try the test method – see if what they are telling is so fabulous, really is.

Check their disclosure – is their disclosure easy to read -  or does it sound kind of mysterious.  Most legit online media will include an image disclosure within the first few sentences – kudos to them for being easy and honest with readers.  Others will draw your attention to the disclosure - not all legit are perfect at disclosing - as there is no real education behind online media, it is a learn as you go.

Know the person – most of my friends know I am authentic, as they know me and have watched my family grow up.  I value my readers time and respect that they trust me – may not always agree with me, but they respect me.  Many of the online media sources I read and trust, is because I KNOW them - over the years I have followed them, read them, and learned to trust them.

I am not a perfect blogger or person for that fact, but in this world I feel my friends, family, and readers deserve to know the truth about online media and how it works.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Watching My Husband Become a Dad.....

A man becomes a dad when.....?

My husband did not watch Lesse or D be born, in fact at the time of their birth I would have never dreamed or thought that I would meet my husband.  Trey did not come into their lives until they much past the dirty diapers, spit ups, and sleepless nights - okay maybe not sleepless nights we do have a teenager!

Over the past year +, I have had the great pleasure of watching my husband go from just being Trey to being a Dad.  From the outside looking in - it looked like an immediate transformation, but from the inside looking out - it was a slow beautiful process (unlike childbirth).

On our very first "family date" you know where Trey got to experience dating a mom with 2 crazy kids and going out to dinner with us - my well spoken, very protective, and sometimes jealous son pipes up and says "Trey, my mom farts like an elephant" - speechless and a little amused Trey responded "well alright then"  - we both knew this was an attempt to scare Trey off.

When the scare tactic didn't work - the Man of the House tactic moved in.  D was sure to tell Trey that "I love my mom more than you ever will" - true stuff, I am D's number one lady, but I am Trey's also in a different way.

As our engagement progressed, we had to make the big decision of who was going to give me away at our wedding.  D piped up again and said "You can marry my Mom, but I am not giving her away" - okay, Mom stayed in the family and D walked me down the isle.  

Blending our family came with lots of fears, worry, anxiety, and maybe some anger! 

Then on our wedding day (nearly a year ago) this happened:

and this: 

Our Family Blended! 

However, the work had only begin.  

Trey was a new dad - only the kids were not babies!  He was more like a kindergartner in high-school, trying to speed learn algebra - and the algebra always changing!  

First there was softball, he fretted she may dehydrate, packed extra water, ran back forth between games, and got extremely mad when the ump made a bad call. 

Then there was school shopping, they had to have all the cool stuff, you know they couldn't start school (for the 4th & 8th time) with just average colored folders - their shoes had to be good shoes, comfortable shoes, and the shorts - they must not be too short!   

Later came basketball, an after school babysitter, and oh no D needs extra reading help.  In the middle of this, we decided to move - so we faced nightmares, new bus route, and Mom forgot to pay the school lunch bill!  Parenting is Tough and ever changing!  

In the middle of this, Trey slowly formed bonds...

It started gradually with prayer time and Bible study with D before bed.  This seemed like no big deal, but later I realized, without those few minutes of the day - D does not sleep well.  They would read a little verse, talk a little about God, and I often would hear some giggles coming from the room. 

Later became "car talk" with Lesse - while Trey was shuffling between basketball, volleyball, or softball they would talk - about Boys, God, Girl Drama, Mom, D, and Chores - only later did I discover that she preferred to tell him stuff first, so he could gently break the news to me - smart girl maybe. 

 "first time father look"  

This past year, I have seen that "first time father look" on my husbands face - more than once actually!  

There was the first time Lesse made a goal at her basketball game - he nearly jumped out of the stands cheering for her!  

The first time D helped him mow the yard with him - both beaming with excitement as they turned donuts in the yard!  

The day that Lesse was baptized, followed shortly later by D - those days may have been better than the day they were born - and there was pride, joy, hope, and love glowing in his face. 

Then there was the bad first; the first heartbreaks, disappointments, the time the dog got loose and D was worried she had left forever - when she was only down the street, the first time Lesse got scared by a storm and woke him up 3 times in one night - on a work night!  

Step Dads are Dads 

Last week we were driving home from church and both kids were riding with me - my car was filled with chatter - and Lesse said "mom can you believe that my friend didn't know Trey was not my real dad"....... I was speechless............She went on to say "yeah, I told her that I have 2 dads, I love them both"  there was silence in the car as I wiped a tear.  

Later that day while D was playing with his friend and they were making big plans, I reminded D that he would be at his Dad's the next week - D's friend said "I thought Trey was D's dad"  I started to explain and D interrupted with "I have 2 dads and its pretty cool" then they ran off to play.  

Blending takes Time

As I look back over the past year, I can compare it to the year my daughter was born, only I am a few years older.  Blended families are a lot like natural families - it takes time, work, messed up schedules, lots of grace, an endless pot of coffee, and many hours of prayer.  

The new parent to the relationship is much like a new mom or dad - a new baby does not come with a handbook, nor does a half grown child.  You have your sleepless nights, the days you want to cry, the days that you are sure you are failing, followed by that big hug and an I love you!  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wearing the Conviction Not Being Able to Have a Baby

This is my personal story, so if you think that I am going to offend you, please click off my post and move along.  

Eight years ago, the decision was made that I would never be able to have a baby again - actually the words the doctor spoke was "if you get pregnant it would be a threat to your life...."

Eight years ago, that was no big deal - I was on a different path and never dreamed that path would make a U-turn, followed by are hard right, and a short left.

Photo by:  Elizabeth Rae Photography 
In the past two years, the talk of having a baby has come up about 40 bazillion million times - everyone knows I am still young enough to be a Mommy, they know Trey does not have any biological children, and now we are newlyweds. 

At first I, would avoid the question, then I would dodge it with answers like "there is so many babies without homes, maybe we will adopt"...knowing I barely have time to finish my college homework let alone attend foster parent classes, and then I would say "oh I don't really like children" and casually glance down at my two beautiful kids that I adore.

No matter how many times I would feed this line, someone would ask again, I almost became immune to it until a few people started making it about the Bible.   I was sitting quietly reading as I overheard two women whisper how it was "Biblical" for a woman to give her husband a child.  My heart sank, I want nothing more than to give my husband a child, but I cannot. 

Later that week someone quoted  these scriptures to me:

"For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing"

I sat there completely crushed, mortified, embarrassed, and confused - my world was rocked - everything that I had learned, believed in, and lived for was shattered - all because I could not give my husband a baby.

The following night I sat on the edge of my bed as my husband acted silly trying to get my attention - he eventually gave up and asked "what gives, why the sad face"

I attempted to dodge the question - I am really good at dodging questions - and then I asked "Do you continue to invest in something that you do not believe in anymore" - he had that priceless stunned look and said "um...what are we giving up"  I replied "Oh nothing, just having a hard time paying our tithes today" - except it was Tuesday and I don't pay our tithes on Tuesday - he didn't buy it, so I resorted to suddenly having to use the restroom - fail again.